The gradual shift from depending on agriculture for livelihood to a fast-moving lifestyle brings innovations and changes in almost every way. Conversation, behaviours, attitude, habits, dependencies, food habits almost everything changes over the time and becomes a trend. Healthy diets, healthy food habits, and healthy lifestyles are quite trendy these days. Even they should be. Food habits win the toss to be a major deciding player for good health.
Ready-to-eat food (mostly processed food) categories make a firm position in society parallel to purchasing fresh vegetables either from farms/farmers or from vendors. Gradually, processed food gets a reputation as a diet saboteur. They are responsible for obesity, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and many other health issues. They are more than potato chips, cheese, cold drinks, macaroni, and other such food items, may be because of their ingredients like artificial colours, additives, flavours, preservatives, etc.
What is processed food?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines it as something that has undergone any changes to its natural state following the procedure of washing, cutting, heating, ultra-high heat treatment, pasteurizing, canning, packaging, etc. The food ingredients also change and include artificial sweetening agents, colours, flavours, preservatives, fats, etc. The Institute of Food Technologists further adds processing like storing, fermenting, concentrating, filtering, packaging, microwaving, and extracting.
Considering these standards, the food items available in supermarkets can be categorized as “processed food”.
Types of food processing
Unprocessed or minimally processed food – Unprocessed foods include natural edible foods, vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts, meats, seafood, spices, herbs, eggs, garlic, milk, etc. which can be consumed either raw or freshly cooked or both. Minimally processed food slightly alters for the preservation without compromising or reducing the nutrient contents. For example, cleaning and removing dirt from food items and refrigerate them but not for a longer period.
Processed food – Processed food contains some added ingredients like oil, sugar, salt, or fats, and is packaged. Some canned fruits and vegetables, some cheese, tofu, freshly made bread, and canned fish are a few examples. These are not single ingredient food but can come under the ready-to-eat category.
Ultra-processed food – These are the highly-processed food that includes some chemical additives like artificial colours, flavours, sugar, added preservatives, etc. to improve shelf life of products. These are typically ready-to-eat food items. Frozen and ready meals, cakes or such baked items, instant noodles and soup, soda, sweetened drinks, reconstituted meats – nuggets, fish fingers, processed cheese products, etc. are a few examples. It’s a notion that these products are specifically designed to increase cravings so that people will overuse them and purchase more.
Is processed food unhealthful?
Processed foods are now a days a part of daily livelihood and are available in almost every kitchen. No doubt they are a time-saver and provides important nutrients too that can be impossible to intake with a busy schedule. Processing by methods like pasteurising, cooking, drying, etc. can destroy and slow down the growth of some harmful bacteria. Pasteurised milk, frozen fruits and vegetables immediately after harvesting, dry fruits, and other such food items can be considered as healthful.
Processing methods that include artificial additives are sure shot harmful. Artificial additives include added sugar, colours, flavours, added preservatives, etc. The degree of processing also determines the nutrient contents in food items, ultrahigh heat treatment may destroy some nutrients from food items and adding back to those nutrients can not be at par with the original form.
Ultra-processed food also contains an uneven ratio of calories to nutrients that can be harmful. High sweetened food products may be responsible for type 2 diabetes, obesity, blood pressure, heart diseases, etc.
Nutrition/Ingredient check before purchasing Processed or ultra-processed food.
Ingredient check or nutrition check is the right of every human being when purchasing processed or ultra-processed food. Even ingredient comparison of the same products from different companies is highly advisable. An aware customer is the backbone of society.
Some of the examples of ingredients can be seen on labels of processed foods.
- Added Sugar – High fructose corn soup, dextrose, molasses, are some of the common names present on labels. They are not rich in nutrients but high in calories.
- Preservatives – Mostly preservatives are ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, tocopherols are written on labels.
- Emulsifiers – It prevents separation of liquids from solids. Soy lecithin, monoglycerides are some examples.
- Thickeners – Used to add texture. Pectin, carrageenan, guar gum are some names that can be seen on labels.
- Total Fat – more than 17.5 g of fat per 100 g; 3 g of fat per 100 g.
- Saturated fat – more than 5 g of saturated fat per 100 g; 1.5 g of saturated fat per 100 g.
Ingredients like added sugar, Sodium, saturated fats, etc. are the epitome of poor diet quality. Regular consumption of such ingredients has effects on obesity, heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. Diabetes is now becoming a household disease may be because of excess consumption of such ingredients. Added sugars contribute to 90%v of total calories in processed foods.
Some facts for highly processed foods
Highly processed are rich in chemical additives that make them harmful for health. Highly processed food
- Can be rich in sugar and rich in fructose corn syrup.
- Are high in refined carbohydrates.
- Are high in total fats including high in trans fat and saturated fat.
- Are high in sodium content.
The last corner
The use of processed food or ultra-processed food has now become a choice for individuals because of their busy schedules. They have their pros and cons. The nutritional facts and ingredients are the deciding factors for what and when to include in daily diet. The research from various institutes and medical associations have already warned people about the ill-effect of such foods on health. It is always advisable to consume unprocessed or minimally processed or freshly cooked food to enjoy a healthy and wealthy life.